Don’t let ‘great’ be the enemy of the ‘good’

“Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.” ~ Tom Peters

Tom Peters could be thought of as one of the founding fathers of the American quality movement. His book In Search of Excellence is a perennial best seller that really shaped a generation of business thinkers. Because of the movement created by his writing we find ourselves “raising the bar” or asking people to “look at that one more time” or “sharpen our pencil” on that… Continually looking for “something better” might be one of the hallmarks of our current American business culture.

But there is a cost to the “search for excellence”.

tom peters quote

If we spend more time searching than we spend doing then, in fact, we have not produced anything excellent. Look carefully at the Tom Peter’s quote above. He’s not advocating searching — he’s advocating doing. Trying stuff — much of which won’t work. Excellence is more often found through making mistakes (in the act of doing) than searching for perfect solutions. In fact, successive approximation leads to excellence much more quickly than waiting for the one perfect shot. Don’t believe me, let’s look at one of the paragons of “excellence”, Apple.

Real artists ship. ~ Steve Jobs

Every one of Apple’s breakthrough products was woefully incomplete when they were first released. Remember the first iPod with that horrible user interface? It was 3 years later that the product we now think of as the iPod was released. How about the first iPhone that wouldn’t let you add any apps? Or the first iPad, laughably huge and clunky compared to today’s products. But producing those first almost excellent products –those products that were good enough (and still far better than what was out there previously) — enabled Apple to learn, to innovate, to improve and to dominate.

Now, I know you are not Steve Jobs, and you don’t have the resources of Apple. So how does this apply to your business?

  • What are you choosing to review before it goes out the door?
    Sure, you want to make sure they are “up to your standards”. You don’t want to be embarrassed. What if saving yourself from occasional embarrassment is making yourself into a bottle neck and preventing those almost great version 1 ideas from seeing the light of day? Look at the list of things that are “waiting for your review” right now and send half of them out the door without another minute’s delay. I’m not kidding, try it, you’ll like it.
  • Do you keep interviewing to find that “perfect” candidate?
    And subsequently lose other “almost-perfect”, well qualified candidates? While you are looking for the perfect candidate who is doing the work? Is your company’s quality and profitability suffering while you search for better and better candidates? Every candidate is going to have pluses and minuses — if they don’t you didn’t interview them very well.
  • How many times have you rewritten that blog post?
    The time you spend re-writing could be spent drafting another post. Not posting it means you don’t learn from the reactions and comments it would have gotten. Posting it and moving on brings in more search traffic, more visitors to you site, and potentially more business.
  • Do you spend more time reviewing past decisions, or evaluating future decisions?
    We can’t change the past. I’d rather invest time in today’s decisions than in evaluating yesterday’s mistakes. I’m not saying that we should never be reflective, we should. I’m looking at the proportions. Make 80% of your thinking about today’s decisions and tomorrow’s goals, spend less than 20% on yesterday’s mistakes.

Where are you letting the great be the enemy of the good? How is your search for excellence getting in the way of shipping something that will move your business forward?

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